Parshat Re’eh: How to create an experience

Parshat Re’eh: How to create an experience

Rabbi Michael Laitner

An alumnus of Yeshivat Hamivtar who received semikha from the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary (2003), Rabbi Michael Laitner serves as the rabbi of the United Synagogue’s Jewish Living Education team and as Assistant Rabbi at Finchley Synagogue (Kinloss) in London.

‘Tithe all the produce that you sow…and eat it in the place that God will choose to make his presence rest…so that you will learn to fear the Lord your God all of the days’ (Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:23)

These verses introduce the topic of Ma’aser Sheini, one of the tithes on food in Israel, as well as the procedure for eating the tithed produce at the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Why in Temple times was Ma’aser Sheini eaten at the Temple?

Why might the Torah give as the reason for this, ‘so that you will learn to fear the Lord your God all of the days?’    

We will summarise selected comments of some Rishonim, the great Mefarashim (Biblical commentators) of the Medieval period whose content and methodology are so important in providing a framework for studying the Bible.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (aka ‘Ibn Ezra’), 1089-1167, explains that this Mitzva (commandment) provides us with the opportunity to go to the Temple which was a place to learn and experience the Torah in action.

As such, the experiential nature of this Mitzva is particularly significant, not just the eating of the produce.

Specifically attending the Temple would also provide a lasting inspirational imprint, increasing our subsequent appreciation and application of the Torah in more general terms.

This imprint did not disappear with the Temple.

For example, Franz Rosenzweig, the 20th century German philosopher, had such a moment of inspiration in a small shul on Kol Nidre night in the early 20th century that started his return to Judaism.

Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, (aka ‘Rashbam’) 1085-1158, notes that by seeing the revelation of God’s presence at the Temple, the Cohanim (priests) and Levi’im (Levites) as well as the other Jews working in the Temple, visitors would garner such inspiration.

It may be hard for us to appreciate properly the elevating experiential effect of a visit to the Temple, which was a quasi Yom Tov for the visitor.

Rabbi Chizkia ben Manoach (aka ‘Chizkuni’), a 13th century commentator, augments Rashbam’s comments, stating that the experience of seeing the Sanhedrin (supreme Rabbinical court) in action at the Temple ruling on Halacha (Jewish law) for the Jewish people, would encourage us to ‘fear’ God in the sense of appreciating the seriousness of the Mitzvot and thereby observing them.

These approaches explain why the experience of going to the Temple, even on a regular weekday rather than just on Yom Tov, was highly significant in developing a religious personality. 

Such experiential moments are not outside of our grasp even in the absence of the Temple.  Franz Rosenzweig found such a moment at Kol Nidre prayers.

Our prayers and services are full of such opportunities. We should seek these out wherever we can, which seems in the spirit of a Sidra called ‘Re-ay’ a word meaning to see and understand.

‘Tithe all the produce that you sow…and eat it in the place that God will choose to make his presence rest…so that you will learn to fear the Lord your God all of the days’ (Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:23)

These verses introduce the topic of Ma’aser Sheini, one of the tithes on food in Israel, as well as the procedure for eating the tithed produce at the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Why in Temple times was Ma’aser Sheini eaten at the Temple?

Why might the Torah give as the reason for this, ‘so that you will learn to fear the Lord your God all of the days?’    

We will summarise selected comments of some Rishonim, the great Mefarashim (Biblical commentators) of the Medieval period whose content and methodology are so important in providing a framework for studying the Bible.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (aka ‘Ibn Ezra’), 1089-1167, explains that this Mitzva (commandment) provides us with the opportunity to go to the Temple which was a place to learn and experience the Torah in action.

As such, the experiential nature of this Mitzva is particularly significant, not just the eating of the produce.

Specifically attending the Temple would also provide a lasting inspirational imprint, increasing our subsequent appreciation and application of the Torah in more general terms.

This imprint did not disappear with the Temple.

For example, Franz Rosenzweig, the 20th century German philosopher, had such a moment of inspiration in a small shul on Kol Nidre night in the early 20th century that started his return to Judaism.

Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, (aka ‘Rashbam’) 1085-1158, notes that by seeing the revelation of God’s presence at the Temple, the Cohanim (priests) and Levi’im (Levites) as well as the other Jews working in the Temple, visitors would garner such inspiration.

It may be hard for us to appreciate properly the elevating experiential effect of a visit to the Temple, which was a quasi Yom Tov for the visitor.

Rabbi Chizkia ben Manoach (aka ‘Chizkuni’), a 13th century commentator, augments Rashbam’s comments, stating that the experience of seeing the Sanhedrin (supreme Rabbinical court) in action at the Temple ruling on Halacha (Jewish law) for the Jewish people, would encourage us to ‘fear’ God in the sense of appreciating the seriousness of the Mitzvot and thereby observing them.

These approaches explain why the experience of going to the Temple, even on a regular weekday rather than just on Yom Tov, was highly significant in developing a religious personality. 

Such experiential moments are not outside of our grasp even in the absence of the Temple.  Franz Rosenzweig found such a moment at Kol Nidre prayers.

Our prayers and services are full of such opportunities. We should seek these out wherever we can, which seems in the spirit of a Sidra called ‘Re-ay’ a word meaning to see and understand.

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